I’d not had a couple of drinks before I got there on this occasion but the drinking began on arrival and just. didn’t. stop.
The Old Soldier had been having dinners for our benefit in his Residence at the Castle for a little while now. The Beahive took as much credit for this development as she could muster. She was convinced that Dinner with the Old Solider in his Residence was something of a draw for prospective donors and in many respects she was absolutely right.
She didn’t, however, take into account the fact that The Old Soldier was lacking in the minimum required social skills for such occasions. Grunting and Orders were the totality of his repertoire. And bollockings. This array of ticks was to be specially coupled for these events by The Beahive’s own brand awkward anxiety that manifested itself as straight-backed imperiousness coupled with arctic add-ons.
The guest list for this evening was mainly made up of representatives from the local business community, at a ‘senior executive but not chairman’ level. The Old Solider was already affronted as this seeming demotion of his time and generosity. I had taken the time, earlier in the week, to explain this aspect of the corporate sponsorship strategy to him whilst he pretended to listen.
The Beahive was not at all keen on meeting the guests at the front gate of The Castle. “It would look strange for one of the hosts to not be in The House when guests arrive”, she said. “It would make me look like staff”.
The intimation was, therefore, that I should do the ‘looking like staff’ on this occasion. She turned her back on me and wandered off to check the table centres or somesuch duty.
“You do realise that this is a very important occasion for The Old Soldier, don’t you”, said The Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country. She had been engaged for duties at The Castle in blatant disregard for any sort of procurement process. Her credentials consisted of producing Food From The Eighties at the Old Soldier’s country residence, something that he was keen to shoe-horn into our brand values at the Castle. Coq au Vin served by sherry-breathed old ladies was what we were now going for, it seemed.
“I know’, I said. “Big night for you too”.
“I beg your pardon”, she slurred.
“It’s a big budget gig this. Must help the cashflow”.
She’d catered the last event that I did. Dinner for 16 people seemed to mysteriously require 32 bottles of high vintage wine, all of which absolutely got drunk and absolutely did not end up in personal usage whatsoever.
“As you know, I’m doing The Old Soldier a very good rate. We’re old friends”.
A minor fib. I’d heard on the grapevine that she’d collared him at a Remembrance Service a couple of years ago, whilst serving a chicken vol au vent that was no doubt garnished with one of her false eyelashes which was, in turn, encrusted with bright blue gunk.
I shrugged and headed off to do my doorman duties, daydreaming about pushing her down the stairs later and passing it off as both an unfortunate work-based accident and the result of a rather lax implementation of our alcohol at work policy, thus implicating The Old Soldier too.
When I got back to the Residence with a dozen or so Marketing Directors, the party was already in full flow. The Old Soldier, The Beahive and the Ruddy-Faced Caterer from the Country had cracked open the champagne and were raucously regaling each other with their favourite tales of embezzlement and sexual indiscretion, no doubt. The Caterer’s staff were standing by in soup-stained aprons, ready to top up glasses that hadn’t even been touched yet.
I decided to join in. Although I wasn’t sitting down for dinner, as befitting my doorman status on this occasion, there was clearly a mission to be joined in with. The guests were taken off for a tour of the Castle and I hung back with the threesome whose demeanours were increasingly wonky and yellow-looking. They were leaning into each other and loudly slagging off the guests who had barely reached an out-of-earshot distance.
I spent the rest of the evening in the kitchen gossiping to the chef and keeping half an increasingly-befuzzed ear on the reports that were being delivered by the waitresses as to the amount of vintage that was being consumed next door.
“You might want to hold back a bit on the top-ups”, I said, whilst accepting another for myself.
“We can’t”, they said. The Soldier had invited The Caterer to join the table and they were jointly taking responsibility for getting everyone as s**t-faced as they possibly could. Not until they had risen up that particular league table of sozzlement themselves though.
We all, at the end of proceedings, went outside to observe a Last Post.
Just as the final bars were being struggled through by an adolescent squaddie with barely a Grade One Recorder qualification to his name, a resounding fart emanated from the group, followed by an un-muffled guffaw from the gaggle of Marketing Directors. I edged away into the darkness in the knowledge that I could sneak out the back way whilst everyone else got lost in the scramble for coats, a nightcap and the advancing darkness.
The next morning it was, of course, me who got the almighty bollocking. The Old Solder turned up to my office in Full Fig – an ensemble that seemed to include braiding from The Residence’s curtains as well as ones that he had, no doubt, earned in the field of warfare.
The quality of the guests, their drunkenness, their flatulence and their disrespect to the Fallen was all entirely my fault. “And you will go downstairs and apologise to The Caterer immediately”, he said. “She is very upset about the way you sneered at her and abused her last night”.
‘I’m sorry?” I said. Not in an apologetic way.
“You have two choices. Either you apologise or I’ll have you on report”, he said.
He still thinks he’s in Dad’s Army, I thought, as I went downstairs to face the Caterer’s haggard, mascara-stained and canyoned cheeks.
“And what’s she still here for anyway?” I thought.
There’s a story there.